Wardrobe - Getting sponsored by designers

"Building A Wardrobe"

"Getting sponsored by designers - How I got so many items to keep."


It's a question if I often get and I want to start digging into this over the course over a few blogs, with the first one tackling - also one of the most delicate topics - : getting sponsored. While most of my clothing wardrobe is years of hoarding, most of my headpieces and other accessoires are build on years of mutual beneficial collaboration and since a short time a change in my business workflow. This resulted in a wardrobe with easily over a hundred headpieces by now and is still ongoing.

I have some golden rules for collaborations in general (and for me, these are closely knit together with sponsorships): The only thing I've never done is asking for a sponsorship. I've never reached out to a designer asking to send me free stuff in exchange for marketing material. I've rarely touched on the subject when in a conversation of collaboration either when I reach out. I do mention it when people reach out to me (as asking party) and I feel interested in collaborating but I'm not in the game anymore to just shoot and send it back since a good year now.

For me it's an incredible important detail to always keep in mind who is behind the messages (and the shop) and realise there is an actual person behind the screen, often running the entire shop on him or herself (with help of a partner or friend in some cases). Now that is out: here are the three most common scenarios for me & how I got into all of this:

Note before reading: This blog touches mostly on me working with independent and small businesses and rarely to never involve bigger companies. This is also mostly based on my experiences for the past years when growing as photographer and my first year as growing business.

"How I got pieces to keep - The 3 ways"

1. Gifts during/after the collaboration

One of the most common ones where a designer has gifted me one (or rarely more) pieces as a thank you for the work I have done in collaboration for them (or in advance they tell me I can keep a piece). A succesfull collaboration is worth more than gold and it can be an incredibly uplifting and rewarding experience for all parties involved: getting great images for a webshop is one of the most important aspects of selling and the photographer (and rest) of the team involved gets epic pictures for their portfolios. All parties also have some great content for social media!

In this stage, a designer has often gifted me a piece I really liked or they let me choose one. This often comes out of the blue for me as well as I never expect something in return because I value their trust and investment already enough because it's still sending pieces to a total stranger somewhere in Belgium in hopes it gets there safe, survives the time there & gets back in one piece. Also don't drop "subtle hints" - chances are they heard it all and we all do see it coming from miles away.


2. Actual sponsorships

My work with Hysteria Machine is a great example of this: back in 2014 I had worked with her for a few times and she wanted to get a team together to shoot her work on a regular base for a consistent style and simply because to have less stress & hassle. I was one of the people chosen and we worked together for a long time: I would shoot (new) pieces for her and her business. In return for all the pieces I got, she could use all the photos I made for promotional & commercial business.

An important note on sponsorships is this: don't be greedy. While she has send me tons of stuff; since a while she hasn't asked me and I always respect the boundaries (and also: don't ask for the "why" - nobody owes you an explanation why (not) anymore). A sponsorship should always be a business relationship and kept as a business relationship. Don't use it to get that one piece you really want thats new and take advantage of your sponsorship. If you want it & your sponsor doesn't say anything about sending it to you: either shut up about it or buy it (and support a small independent business. See my note below at the end about this).

I follow a lot of amazing designers and sometimes they put up calls like this. You can always apply for it and see what happens or let it grow organically after a one or multiple great collaborations. Because believe me: designers are perfectly capable of putting one-and-one together at times and they will consider it probably. Maybe for one or two; maybe more. Just let them decide and give them some personal space.



3. Trading

A trade is something I started doing about a year ago after I realised I had over 500 euros in expenses for shipping & import taxes alone in less then 3 months after I got a note from my accountant. This was a serious wakeup call for me as well as I was already a full-time business paying a double rent and heavily investing into letting it all grow. Using the "trade" mechanism is not something I would recommend doing from the start as I feel this is something for the more "experienced" photographers out there and only when you're being approached.

When I get approached now for a collaboration I will carefully check out the person messaging me to see what (s)he has to offer and if it's worth putting my business & personal time, money and other investments & financial loss in it. Usually I will decline and offer my rates instead ; though in some cases when I really like the work I will say yes: on the one condition I can get a piece of/or pieces making up to at least x-value to add to my wardrobe as compensation. It's up to the designer contacting me if (s)he agrees on this or not; which will also give me an insight in if (s)he values my investment enough. As I will equally demand the same respect of those I work with for my investments as I try to value in them and what they do for me.

This is something I only started doing since a year or so & I only do when I genuinly like the piece(s) the person is offering. Even if I get a piece/pieces ; I still need to keep my end of the bargain and deliver photos in return. As mentioned on the side here right as well: while I love shooting & supporting independent businesses: I've learned the very hard way that my business always comes  first. That doesn't mean you should be an entitled twat as you can seriously be a genuine, caring person without sacrifing the health of your business and yourself. I don't want to use my advantage of being a more well-know photographer to get freebies to collect and never do anything with. Which is why I've got way more selective about this and why I only offer this when I genuinly both like a piece as when I'm pretty sure my clients will like this.

- This is how I did it. I only started receiving and doing this since end 2014 (I've been pretty active shooting since 2009) and only after I developed a great portfolio and some name-ish as well. Sponsorships are a great deal & shouldn't be taking lightly. How cool as it sounds (and is!). While mistakes always happen (and I had many): always stay honest and genuine. That usually saves you and you can always work something out. -

You are not worth it if you aren't willing to actually pay actual money for a piece. While I often get compared to a forever hoarding dragon like Smaug because I like all the pretty things I see passing by & want to have it all: it doesn't mean I should just get it "because I'm Sheridan's Art" or even expect it to be send my way. Sponsorships are a delicate relationship of mutual trust and benefit and should never be exploited by either party. I have bought multiple pieces by now because I didn't get them & I really wanted it. Just like in collaborations (and this is why I never ask for sponsorships): you're satisfying your needs if you reach out to someone; not theirs. So buy the piece instead of asking for it. And if you can't pay it: save up. Or at least inquire if there are rental options & actually do rent out the piece(s).